Watchdog Group Finds Spooky Spotify Ad Is Too Scary For Kids, Causes 'Distress'

Oct 17, 2018
Originally published on December 11, 2018 10:47 am

Halloween is exactly two weeks away but Spotify launched a campaign to scare people back in June. Unfortunately, for the music-streaming company, their efforts were too frightening.

On Wednesday, a British advertising watchdog group ruled that a minute-long Spotify advertisement featuring Camila Cabello's "Havana" and a creepy, self-animated harlequin-type doll, is way too spooky for kids.

The ad opens with a group of teenagers — inexplicably living in a gargantuan and lavish house — easing into their morning routine. A yawning girl asks, "Can we play the wake-up playlist?" And the first catchy notes of Cabello's song start playing. The tune is so seductive that it awakens the aforementioned doll, which begins to stalk (and presumably kill) the attractive young people in the house one by one.

In 60 seconds, the ad manages to showcase a medley of horror film tropes: a maniacal children's toy, a long and dark hallway, a young woman screaming in terror, and a startling over-the-shoulder apparition in a steamy mirror.

The final shots of the ad include the doll's face alongside the tagline: "Killer songs you can't resist."

After an extensive analysis of the commercial published on Wednesday, the Advertising Standards Authority, concluded that while it was clearly a spoof of the horror film genre, it was "likely to cause undue distress to children."

"In particular, the ad contained scenes that had tense sound effects and imagery similar to a horror film including the implied threat of violence. The fact the ad was set inside the home, including a bedtime setting, and featured a doll, meant it was particularly likely to cause distress to children who saw it," the ASA said.

The organization concluded that it "did not consider that the context of the ad justified the distress."

In an emailed statement to NPR, a Spotify spokesperson said:

"We acknowledge the ruling from the ASA and regret any distress the ad may have caused the complainant. It was created as a tongue-in-cheek horror parody – intended to be a humorous ad that demonstrated just how catchy some tracks can be. We take our responsibilities as a marketer very seriously and continue to be mindful of the ASA's guidance on the effective and appropriate targeting of advertising campaigns."

The complaint against Spotify was filed by a parent who said their children viewed the ad and found it upsetting. The age of the children is unclear but apparently they saw a version of the ad — there is also 30-second version — on a video game YouTube channel intended for kids 10 and up.

According to the ASA, the streaming music company had failed to sufficiently warn viewers that the commercial was not a horror movie trailer.

Spotify agreed that the ad was appropriate for older audiences. The company argued that data showed that 89 percent of the viewers of the YouTube channel where the ad ran are 18 or older — the target demographic it was intended to reach. Additionally, the company explained, the ad — which preceded unrelated videos — allowed viewers to skip the commercial after five seconds, and that the scary doll didn't appear until 12 seconds into the ad.

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